Sigma Refines and Rebuilds, with the 35mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens

To some, there’s little that's more perfect than the fast 35mm prime lens. It’s a staple focal length in any lens lineup and a go-to lens for many photographers working in a wide variety of genres. It’s an important lens for Sigma, and the company has just released its latest iteration, with the 35mm f/1.4 DG DN Art lens. Available for L-mount and Sony E mirrorless systems, this lens is a fresh take on the popular focal length, featuring a wholly new optical design, a new focusing mechanism, and a trim, lightweight build. Considering how much Sigma has updated with this lens, you might be hard pressed to believe it’s Sigma’s fourth 35mm lens for mirrorless cameras.

It’s been nearly a decade since Sigma reorganized its lens lineup, updated its optical and physical designs, and coined the Global Vision Series. This announcement, in 2012, came with the introduction of the 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens—this fast wide-angle prime was the very first lens of the now-revered Art series of high-end lenses, and is still one of the most popular lenses from Sigma today. No doubt this lens still holds its own, but Sigma has recognized that it’s becoming a bit long in the tooth, specifically because it was designed and released for use with SLR cameras. Now that mirrorless is king, Sigma saw the opportunity to update this flagship of sorts with the all-new, fully revised 35mm f/1.4 DG DN lens.

Flowering trees make the perfect subject to show off the shallow depth-of-field control of the f/1.4 lens.

So, with this all-new design, what exactly does the new DG DN version of this prized lens bring? The updated optical layout includes two SLD elements, one FLD element, and two aspherical elements—in short, this just means that chromatic and spherical aberrations are well-controlled, sharpness is nothing short of hugely impressive, and colors are accurate, clear, and punchy. A Super Multi-Layer Coating is used, too, which is a technology carried over from the past but, nonetheless, still manages to keep contrast high in various lighting conditions. It also features an 11-rounded-blade diaphragm, for that smooth bokeh you know you want, and a minimum focusing distance of 11.8" for working with close-up subjects.

The 35mm focal length is great for spontaneous captures of a couple of curious visitors at the Botanical Gardens.

In terms of physical changes from Sigma’s past 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM, this is where the new lens stands on its own. To begin, the DG HSM version was built with SLRs in mind, but later introduced for use on Sony E and L-mount mirrorless cameras by including a mount adapter. It was a working solution but added unwanted length and weight to the lens to make up for the difference in focal flange distances between mirrorless and SLR cameras. This DG DN version of the 35mm f/1.4 has been created specifically for mirrorless cameras (hence the brand-new optics) and no longer has an unnecessarily long or weighty build.

Using the lens’s close-focusing capabilities and fast aperture to highlight the punchy colors from spring flowers.

Among other differences, this new 35mm lens also sports a stepping AF motor, which moves just a single focusing element, to achieve fast, quiet, and precise focus performance. Compared to an HSM (Hyper-Sonic Motor), the stepping motor is smaller, quieter, and better suited for the smaller dimensions of the lens, as well as the multimedia usage more associated with mirrorless shooters. Additional differences relate to handling, including a manual aperture ring that can be de-clicked, a programmable AFL button, and a smaller and lighter-weight form factor.

  Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art Sigma 35mm f/2 DG DN Contemporary
Aperture Range f/1.4 to f/16 f/1.4 to f/16 f/1.2 to f/16 f/2 to f/22
Optical Design 15 elements, 11 groups
(1 FLD, 2 SLD, 2 aspherical)
13 elements, 11 groups
(1 FLD, 4 SLD, 2 aspherical)
17 elements, 12 groups
(3 SLD, 3 aspherical)
10 elements, 9 groups
(1 SLD, 3 aspherical)
Focusing System Stepping motor Hyper-Sonic Motor Hyper-Sonic Motor Stepping motor
Minimum Focus Distance 11.8" 11.8" 11.8" 10.6"
Lens Controls AF/MF switch
AFL button
Aperture ring with de-click switch
AF/MF switch AF/MF switch
AFL button
Aperture ring with de-click switch
AF/MF switch
Aperture ring
Aperture Blades 11, rounded 9, rounded 11, rounded 9, rounded
Filter Size 67mm 67mm 82mm 58mm
Dimensions 3 x 4.3" (L-mount) 3 x 4.7" (L-mount) 3.5 x 5.4" (L-mount) 2.8 x 2.6" (L-mount)
Weight 1.4 lb (L-mount) 1.7 lb (L-mount) 2.4 lb (L-mount) 11.5 oz (L-mount)

You’ll notice the chart isn’t just comparing the new 35mm f/1.4 to the old 35mm f/1.4, and that’s because the 35mm lens is a popular option for Sigma. Oddly enough, the 35mm f/1.4 is the third option specifically designed for mirrorless cameras and is going to sit in the company’s DG DN lineup as the all-arounder 35mm. It’s lighter but slower than the super-fast 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art and a bit heavier but faster and more optically refined than the sleek 35mm f/2 DG DN Contemporary. In my opinion, the 35mm f/1.4 encapsulates most of the allure of the f/1.2 version, but is a lens that's easier to handle since it’s shaving off a full pound of weight in exchange for being just a third of a stop slower. Compared to the f/2 Contemporary lens, this is a more debatable point for me, and it really boils down to how lightweight you want to keep your kit or how valuable the bright f/1.4 lens is. The f/2 is also an I-series lens, and has the more distinct-looking exterior, whereas the f/1.4 lens has the typical Art build that’s more functional than aesthetic.

Using the wide-angle field of view to show off space, distance, and scale.

I got to spend a few days with the new 35mm f/1.4 DG DN Art and took time to enjoy the spring weather by visiting some of the more scenic areas in the city, as well as the Botanical Garden. Interestingly enough, when I reviewed the 35mm f/1.2, I also took that lens to the Botanical Garden, and when I reviewed the 35mm f/2, I took that to a similar riverside area.

With that information in the back of my head, it helped to figure where the in-between f/1.4 version fits into Sigma’s lineup. It’s certainly much more enjoyable to carry around for a day of shooting than the f/1.2, but it does lag a tiny bit in its ability to isolate subjects against busy backgrounds. Compared to the f/2, the f/1.4 lens really feels like a different kind of lens. It puts you in a different mood that is a bit more structured and less off-the-cuff. Borrowing from what I said about the f/1.2, “I found myself wanting to treat this 35mm lens a bit more like an 85mm. Because of its ability to separate subjects from backgrounds quite easily, I started shooting with it in a method where I would pick on very specific elements of a scene and let the rest fall slightly out of focus.” With the 35mm f/2, I seldom used it at f/2; with the 35mm f/1.4, I liked to shoot at f/1.4 because it offers a unique and desirable effect and quality.

The 35mm focal length is a flexible focal length for working in tight or cramped spaces, such as beneath a tree, while maintaining a very natural and broad field of view.

After using the 35mm f/1.4 DG DN Art, I can see why Sigma wanted to make this lens, but it also leaves me wondering and surprised that the company hadn’t done this earlier. It feels like such an important piece in Sigma’s lineup, given the popularity of the HSM version, and is much more built for daily use than the more niche f/1.2 lens. Beyond the comparisons and seeing how it slots right into Sigma’s already well-versed 35mm lineup, this lens offers pretty much everything you’d expect from a 35mm f/1.4. It’s a comfortable wide-angle lens with a fast maximum aperture, advanced optical design, and is weather-sealed. It’s exactly what you want it to be, it has few frills, and it is really just built to be that lens you maybe don’t think is so special but for some reason you keep turning to time and time again because it’s just so good.

One more flowering tree shot to show off the sharpness of this lens and the shallow depth of field of an f/1.4 maximum aperture.

What are your thoughts on Sigma’s bevy of 35mm lenses? Are you excited for this new Goldilocks f/1.4 version or have you already settled on another version? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section, below.

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